author: Glennette Tilly Turner
date: Abrams Books for Young Readers; September, 2010
Glennette Tilley Turner grew up surrounded by aunts who enjoyed learning about history. Her Aunt Jean published her first story about Fort Mose in the New York Times in 1978. As explained in her author’s note, she kept running into information about Fort Mose over the years and eventually decided to write this book. The completeness of the story indicate a story written not only from passion, but from extensive research. The rear of the book details the print sources, individuals and site locations that Turner consulted in writing about Fort Mose, the first settlement of free Blacks in what is now the United States. Turner gives as much information as she can about Francisco Menendez, the leader of the community, but where the information is lacking, Turner provides background information about the era to complete the picture.
While we don’t know exactly where or when Menendez was born, or what his birth name would have been is West Africa, Turner describes the naming rituals his parents probably would have used. We learn about the rice plantations in the Carolinas in the early 18th century and how Menendez would have used previously acquired skills to add to the local economy. The relationship between the Spanish, British, Native Americans and Africans is essential to understand how Fort Mose developed and it is developed in a manner that is clear and concise. By combining what is known about Fort Mose with what is know about Menendez, readers are able to understand the importance of Fort Mose in the history of the United States and the role Black people played in making the Fort important. This story helps raise our perception of Africans brought to America from being perceived as slaves to being seen as people.
Images are used to document the details of the book. There are portraits, copies of journals and photos of the land that Fort Mose is believed to have once occupied. My only small criticism of the book is that the artists who created these images and the museums that store them are not identified.
Fort Mose would probably be suitable for middle through secondary students. I could easily see juniors and seniors in high school using the information in this book to become acquainted with the topic and to identify resources for further study. The author treats the reader as if they value good research and enjoy learning history.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
This book reminded me very much of Someone Knows My Name, a novel by Lawrence Hill.